The SoTL Advocate

Supporting efforts to make public the reflection and study of teaching and learning at Illinois State University and beyond…

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Searching for Prior Literature for SoTL Projects: Beyond Electronic Data Bases

Written by Kathleen McKinney, Cross Endowed Chair in SoTL, Illinois State University

It has been the experience of many SoTL researchers that finding relevant past studies and theory for their SoTL projects can be a difficult task. First, for most of us, this is usually not the literature we know from our traditional disciplinary research or theoretical understandings and/or we may be in a work situation where we have little opportunity to conduct any research (and literature reviews). Second, published or presented past SoTL studies do not have ‘their own’ electronic database and do not appear with any frequency or consistency in any one other electronic database. Third, our SoTL work is, most often, context specific (in terms of the discipline of our students, our institutional characteristics, the characteristics of our course and students, etc.) so we may feel there is no extant relevant literature. Given such constraints, what strategies can we use to find prior SoTL studies relevant to our projects?

  • Think about what types of past studies or theoretical pieces could be relevant to your SoTL project. Past work with the same or a related teaching-learning problem or question regardless of approach taken? That uses the same theory you hope to use? That uses a similar methodological approach though the project’s topic might be a bit different than yours? That has a similar question and/or method but in a course in a different discipline? Depending on your questions and purposes, intended audiences, and intended ‘making public’ outlets, any or all of these areas of literature could be relevant to your SoTL project.
  • Have an idea, based on your SoTL project, journal mission statements, etc. of the specific publications or conferences or websites to which you plan to submit your SoTL work. You want to be careful to find and cite related work from those outlets or venues.
  • At your institution’s library or online, read the titles/abstracts of articles in recent issues of major SoTL journals (cross discipline-general, cross discipline specific, and in your discipline) looking for related work. You can find one list of such SoTL journals with links at .
  • Depending on the topic of your SoTL project, consider looking at prior literature in more traditional education journals.
  • Work with a library faculty member at your institution. They are experts at doing literature searches.
  • Online, go to the sites of major SoTL conferences such as ISSOTL, the SoTL Commons, STLHE, and Lilly conferences, and check for proceedings or materials or lists of presentations of recent conferences looking for related work. If bibliographies are not posted, email the presenters of related work for their ideas about sources and their paper or presentation or a bibliography.
  • Online, go to sites that are ‘repositories’ of SoTL work such as the Visible Knowledge Project at Georgetown, the Carnegie Foundation Keep Snapshots of Carnegie Scholars and other SoTL work, and the University of Nebraska course portfolio site looking for related work. If citations or bibliographies are not posted, email the creators of the posting for their ideas about sources.
  • Attend SoTL conferences and talk with other SoTL scholars who are doing work in the same or overlapping areas for their suggestions of literature.
  • When you have found a useful, recent article or other source, carefully review the bibliography of that piece for other useful sources.
  • Use multiple search strategies—electronic databases, interpersonal contacts, ‘hand’ searches, ‘snowballing’ of references from a relevant article, etc.

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Walk the Talk SoTL Contest Reception and Summary from 1 of 2 Winning Teams

Written by Jen Friberg, Lisa Vinney, Jennine Harvey, and Heidi Harbers, CSD Faculty at Illinois State University

Next Wednesday, April 29, 2015, a reception will be held to honor two award winning teams from our contest for the best team or academic unit who applied SoTL research results/literature beyond the individual classroom to solve a problem, achieve a goal, or exploit an opportunity resulting in improved teaching or enhanced student learning at Illinois State University. Details for this reception can be found on the Cross Chair website.

A summary of each award-winning project will be featured in the next few weeks. Today’s blog highlights the work done by faculty in the Communication Sciences and Disorders department over the course of the last 18 months. This project, titled SoTL to Support Curricular Change in Communication Sciences & Disorders is summarized below:

What problem(s) did your team seek to solve using SoTL? 

Engagement in a wholesale revision of the graduate speech-language pathology (SLP) curriculum in the department of communication sciences and disorders (CSD) began in the 2012-13 academic year. As the initial curriculum redesign was conceptualized, separate advisory changes in the department organized students into cohorts, with specific courses offered in a planned sequence to address academic and clinical needs within the CSD department. Thus, the graduate curriculum redesign was the goal of the CSD department; the change in how students progressed through their graduate programs was an opportunity exploited to support the curriculum redesign process, as is explained below.

What strategies did your team devise to apply best practices from SoTL work to your problem/goal/opportunity? 

CSD faculty indicated a desire to remove courses from disorder-specific “silos” and move towards an integrated curriculum with a focus on the patient as a whole person. Thus, it was determined that any changes to the graduate curriculum needed to address this issue designing an integrated curriculum, as was successful in various other disciplines facing a similar issue (Booth, McLean, & Walker, 2009; Carruthers, 2013; Chase, Franson, & An, 2001). As part of their curriculum revision, CSD faculty adapted Sankowsky’s (1998) concepts to describe the ideal integration of learning experiences for students:

  • Discipline-based learning could be realized as disorder-based learning in CSD and would include academic content important to understanding the assessment and treatment of specific, individual communication disorders.
  • Development-based learning could be rebranded as intra-disciplinary learning, including knowledge and skills that are needed to understand the assessment and treatment of multiple communication disorders.

CSD faculty determined that both disorder-based and intra-disciplinary learning were critical to designing the optimal graduate curriculum. Efforts shifted to determine if this form of integrated curriculum was effective in supporting academic and clinical learning of our CSD students at ISU.

What SoTL research (your own, colleagues, or from the literature) did you use to support your strategies?

Our review of SoTL research indicated promise for each of the approaches outlined above; however, as none of these SoTL studies focused on CSD students, two separate projects were undertaken to explore whether these curricular/pedagogical approaches would be advantageous for our CSD students:

Project 1: Drs. Friberg and Harbers taught child-based SLP graduate classes in the fall of 2013 (CSD 412: Speech Sound Disorders and CSD 415: Preschool Language Disorders), developing a collaborative project for 34 students co-enrolled in both courses. Students participated in a case-based assessment and treatment project addressing a variety of clinical learning objectives. Students were surveyed at pre-project and post-project intervals to measure their perception of learning as a result of this project. Data analysis indicated that students perceived increases in learning as a result of this project, particularly in understanding the relationship between course material presented in CSD 412 and CSD 415. Students reported being able to better understand how disorders could co-occur and the impact one disorder could have upon a different disorder.

Project 2: Drs. Harvey and Vinney taught medically-based SLP graduate classes in the spring of 2014 (CSD 444: Motor Speech Disorders and CSD 419: Aphasia). Thirty-five graduate students were co-enrolled across these courses and were exposed to online modules, application activities, quizzes, and narrated lectures for topics including the brain, brainstem, spinal cord, the motor unit, and vascular system.  The modules were followed by in-class review discussion questions and activities. Students were surveyed about newly acquired knowledge following module completion (post-modules) and following both module completion and in-class review (post-foundational review). Data analysis indicated that the online modules, application question assignment, and in-class discussion helped them learn and apply knowledge important for both CSD 444 and CSD 419. Further, preliminary results from the clinical application activities indicated that students ability to explain and apply information about the the spinal cord, motor unit, and brainstem to clinical aphasia and motor speech cases improved.

Please briefly reflect on the impact of this experience upon your team; in particular consider the specific role of the SoTL literature on your outcomes or consequences. 

These experiences had a profound effect on our team. These impacts were realized on several fronts:

  • Faculty gained experience in planning and implementing intra-disciplinary learning experiences for students that were effective in supporting student learning.
  • Through the planning of these integrated experiences for students, faculty realized that they had been unknowingly supporting the “silo” mentality by operating independently of other teaching faculty within the department.
  • The experiences described within this application led the four co-applicants to collaborate as SoTL researchers and as department citizens to lead discussions about faculty priorities for curriculum redesign.
  • Overall, the most functional impact of these experiences led to a departmental-wide conclusion that intra-disciplinary learning experiences should be a greater focus in the SLP graduate curriculum.


Booth, A., McLean, M., & Walker, M. (2009). Self, others and society: A case study of university integrative learning. Studies in Higher Education, 34(8), 929-939.

Carruthers, B. (2013). Educating professional musicians: Lessons learned from school music. International Journal of Music Education, 26(2), 127-135.

Chase, P. A., Franson, K. L., & An, A. (2001). Disovery maps: A student-centered approach to reinforcing curriculum. American Journal of Pharmacological Education, 65, 74-77.

Sankowsky, D. (1998). Two pathways to instructional delivery: Distinguishing between the discipline-based and development-based paradigms. Journal of Management Education, 22(3), 269-284.

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Ideas for Readings on SoTL and Teaching and Learning in Higher Education

Written by Kathleen McKinney, Cross Chair for SoTL at Illinois State University

This post was first sent to the POD faculty developer discussion list in response to a request for ideas about reading on SoTL/ T & L in higher education literature for graduate students. What follows is my reply with two additional recommendations inserted (from Nancy Chick at the University of Calgary). I will start by pointing out that there are different “categories” of literature here as the POD member asking the question use dboth the terms ‘SoTL’ and ‘T & L higher education literature’ (many would argue these overlap but are not the same sets of literature). And, depending on the graduate students [or junior faculty or others new to SoTL], their goals/needs for this literature, and your goals as a faculty developer, something from some or all of these categories of literature might be useful.

1. Theoretical or conceptual work, empirical research, syntheses of research… but in the very general and broad field of teaching and learning in the post-secondary educational level (or higher education): This work is often by those whose degrees are in the field of education or an education sub-field of a discipline, and is often not local or practioner or action research but more traditional, educational research or theorizing. Sometimes the work is very macro or policy oriented as well but certainly not always. Sometimes this work approaches higher educational issues from a disciplinary perspective or disciplinary literature base (e.g., M. Svinicki’s classic book- Learning and Motivation in the Post-Secondary Classroom– summarizing and applying learning theories and educational psychology to higher education teaching or R. Arum and J. Roksa’s Academically Adrift (and recently released follow-up book) both of which take a sociological approach to teaching and learning in higher education or J. E. Zull’s The Art of Changing the Brain: Enriching the practice of teaching by exploring the biology of learning from a biological/physiological view. Sometimes this more traditional educational research focuses on specific teaching-learning issues. I have a handout of several books in this category I have enjoyed and found useful (though I admit the list has not been updated in about 3 years and it is in NO WAY a complete list!). 

2. Literature on the field of the scholarship of teaching and learning (more narrowly conceptualized than T & L higher education literature and usually action, practioner, local, conducted by those in the disciplines including–mostly–non education disciplines): This work on the field of SoTL may be both within a discipline and, more often, in terms of the broader cross-discipline field of SoTL (e.g., debates about what SoTL is, how it should be done, variations by discipline or nation or institutional type, organizations, etc.). There are a number of ‘how to do’ SoTL books out. Most are somewhat biased toward a social science and education view of ‘research.’ Several cross-discipline SoTL journals also publish essays on the field of SoTL. Several books on the field have been published by Carnegie Foundation staff and Jossey-Bass over the last 15 years or so as well. You can find a bibliography of some things on the field of SoTL (again probably not updated in the last 2 years or so and certainly there is other relevant work including that from other nations) at

Two other great sources for reading related to SoTL, for example, are offered by Nancy Chick:

3. Actual SoTL research literature–“studies” (again more narrowly conceptualized than T & L higher education research literature) both discipline-specific (most of it) or cross/multi-discipline: The former is generally published in discipline-specific pedagogical journals –e.g., Teaching Sociology in my field– but both types are published in cross discipline SoTL journals such as Journal of Excellence in College Teaching, Teaching & Learning Inquiry, International Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, etc. There are many lists of such journals on line including the one our librarians keep at that includes ‘core’ or cross-discipline and discipline-specific SoTL and teaching journals.

Finally, related to both categories #2 and #3 above, I have an edited book that has chapters about issues in the field of SoTL in HE and some SoTL projects/research, in several disciplines and in multi-discipline teams. (McKinney, K. Ed. 2013. The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning In and Across the Disciplines. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.)

Happy reading!!!

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Summer 2015 Opportunities for Illinois State University Faculty and Students

Four different summer opportunities for ISU faculty and students were announced today by the Office of the Cross Chair in SoTL. These opportunities include:

  1. Consultations to discuss projects and ideas related to SoTL
  2. A reading circle focused on multi-disciplinary SoTL
  3. Opportunities to submit posts for this blog to highlight ongoing SoTL work, reflections, or reviews
  4. A workshop to learn about IRB issues as they relate to SoTL research

As the flier says, please consider any or all opportunities as you begin to make summer plans! Feel free to forward any questions about these opportunities to

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SoTL Methods Series #3: Survey

Written by Jennifer Friberg, SoTL Scholar-Mentor at Illinois State University

Survey research is that which uses directed questioning (via interviews, focus groups, or written questionnaire) to understand the perceptions, knowledge, or attitude held by a group of people about a given topic. In SoTL research, surveys are used to gather perceptions of stakeholders to better understand a particular teaching or learning question. Each of the types of survey research are briefly defined below:

  • Interviews and focus groups are types of surveys that allow face-to-face conversations between researchers and participants in a study to answer a variety of questions about a topic. Whereas interviews are typically conducted with a researcher and a single participant, focus groups typically involve a larger participant group (e.g., one researcher and a group of 6-8 participants).
  • Written questionnaires are a type of survey that allows participants to answer a variety of standardized questions about a topic for analysis and interpretation. Written questionnaires can be paper-based or electronically-based. There is no direct, face-to-face interaction between researcher and participant when using a written questionnaire.

Trochim (2006) indicates that there are two critical steps in conducting a survey-based research study: selection survey method to be used and construction of the actual survey instrument. A very helpful list of considerations for these steps can be found at

One of the primary considerations of survey research is how to best reach your intended pool of participants in order to increase your overall response rate. Written questionnaires can be distributed via paper-based or electronic-based (email, course management software, or direct link to survey software such as Survey Monkey) methods. Increasingly, researchers are using social media (e.g., Twitter, Facebook) to assist in recruiting participants for all types of survey-based research. Suggestions are offered on several sites to maximize participant recruitment for surveys and focus groups.

Benefits of survey research include: low cost to researcher, typically better demographic representation in participant group than with other methodologies, less subjectivity in administration with good survey design, and increased precision in data collection (Bishop-Clark & Dietz-Uhler, 2012). Drawbacks of survey research include less flexibility in data interpretation and a need to ask questions carefully to minimize inconsistencies in participant interpretation of questions.

Exemplar SoTL research articles using survey methodologies include the following:

Gaston, S. & Kruger, M. L. (2014). Students perceptions of volunteering during the first two years of studying a social work degree. International Journal for the Scholarship of teaching and Learning, 8(2), article 11.

McNamara, T. & Bailey, R. (2006). Faculty/staff perceptions of a standards-based exit portfolio system for graduate students. Innovative Higher Education, 31(2), 129-141.

Finally, the following non-research reference might be helpful to any scholars seeking more information about case study-based research:

Fowler, F. J. (2009). Survey research methods. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Blog References:

Bishop-Clark, C. & Dietz-Uhler, B. (2012). Engaging in the scholarship of teaching and learning: A guide to the process, and how to develop a project from start to finish. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.

Friberg, J. & Cox, M. (2014, October). Selecting methodologies for your SoTL research projects workshop: Supplemental workshop resource. Unpublished paper.

Trochim, W. M. K. (2006). Survey research. Downloaded from